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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 316-317

Understanding migrants' reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic from evolutionary psychology

1 Department of Clinical Psychology, JSS Medical College, JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, Mysore, Karnataka, India
2 Department of Psychiatry, JSS Medical College, JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, Mysore, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission24-Nov-2020
Date of Acceptance02-Apr-2021
Date of Web Publication17-Nov-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. M Kishor
Department of Psychiatry, JSS Medical College, JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, Mysore, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijhas.IJHAS_269_20

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How to cite this article:
Akula I, Kishor M. Understanding migrants' reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic from evolutionary psychology. Int J Health Allied Sci 2021;10:316-7

How to cite this URL:
Akula I, Kishor M. Understanding migrants' reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic from evolutionary psychology. Int J Health Allied Sci [serial online] 2021 [cited 2024 Feb 25];10:316-7. Available from: https://www.ijhas.in/text.asp?2021/10/4/316/330552


COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in recent times with more than 100,000 deaths in India along by the end of September 2020. The current pandemic has perplexed humans in recent times as to how humans react when confronted with situations where short-term and long-term survival is endangered. It is estimated nearly 40 million migrants moved from cities where they worked, back to their native place within the 1st month of lockdown as per World Bank, April 2020 report.[1] Evolutionary medicine, the field that applies evolution as essential for making sense of everything in biology, can play an important role in understanding human reaction in disasters. Evolutionary psychology as a subspecialty can enhance understanding.[2] Migrants were promised food and shelter by governments at state and center; however, they chose to return to their natives. It is important to understand the migrant issue from evolutionary psychology so that there is improved preparation for future eventualities. Panic behavior is usually thought to be the prevalent response to perceived danger.[3] People's behaviors are directed in a way that increases their chances of survival. Solidarity and prosocial behavior is reported in such circumstances.[4] Under panic situations, a drive to help others is observed. Such situations lead to the adoption of a common social identity which promotes prosocial behavior. Thus, in response to the current threat, people desire social contact with familiar settings. When faced with danger, intuitive reaction is not about clarity in thinking in rational decision that will enhance survival, rather is to be cooperative. Initial response to a danger is not to flee but to seek the proximity of familiar persons and places. Moreover, separation from attachment figures is seen as a greater physical stressor than the danger.[5] This response has been explained by the “social attachment model” of human behavior in disaster. The model postulates that migrants chose to give up the resources (assurances) offered by the government and return to their native place because maintaining proximity with familiar surroundings reflects the fundamental nature of human behavior. Moreover, the presence of familiar people influences the perception of danger and fear is reduced.[5] The model posits four outcomes that will arise as a result of a prevalent danger: Affiliation, orderly evacuation by nonresidents, evacuation by community residents, and intense flight and affiliation. Affiliation is seen where the physical danger is of a mild nature and individuals show an increased affiliation since they are in proximity of attachment figures. When the danger is mild, but individuals are alone, the outcome is an orderly evacuation. Nonresidents will temporarily flee to their homes and the residents will remain. Seen occasionally, evacuation by community residents is seen where the degree of danger is severe. Communities and social groups leave together, thereby ensuring proximity with attachment figures. In intense flight and affiliation, the danger is high and the individuals are distant from their familiar figures. In such situations, the flight and affiliative behavior can be manifested in competitive and selfish behavior, wherein individuals will take measures to ensure survival and gain proximity with distant attachment figures.[5]

When migrants were assured that there will be no shortage of vital resources as per the respective governments in India, they still chose to move back to their native place. Despite the innumerable risks including the risk of being infected and transmitting the infection to the native people, the migrants chose to seek every opportunity to travel back to their homes. The plausible explanation for this observation is that seeking contact from attachment figures is a natural drive in human evolution. Affiliation and contact seeking are seen to be the core responses to danger.[3] When migrants had to face the danger of COVID-19, they gravitated toward returning to their hometown depicting intense flight and affiliation. In dire conditions, human natural response is not to maintain distance but to seek proximity even if the latter is the safest option. This “natural drive” of maintaining proximity and seeking contact can be considered as a plausible explanation for the mass movements of migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Evolutionary psychology can play an important role in health sciences and policy matters that deal with humans, especially so in pandemics, like COVID-19. However, more structured research in evolutionary psychology is needed to understand human migration.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Lockdown in India Has Impacted 40 Million Internal Migrants, Says World Bank, Economic Times; 2020 April, 23. Available from: https://m.economictimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/lockdown-in india-has-impacted-40-million-internal-migrants-worldbank/amp_articleshow/75311966.cms. [Last accessed on 2020 Oct 29].  Back to cited text no. 1
Gluckman PD, Low FM, Buklijas T, Hanson MA, Beedle AS. How evolutionary principles improve the understanding of human health and disease. Evol Appl 2011;4:249-63.  Back to cited text no. 2
Dezecache G, Frith CD, Deroy O. Pandemics and the great evolutionary mismatch. Curr Biol 2020;30:R417-9.  Back to cited text no. 3
Dezecache G. Human collective reactions to threat. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci 2015;6:209-19.  Back to cited text no. 4
Mawson AR. Understanding mass panic and other collective responses to threat and disaster. Psychiatry 2005;68:95-113.  Back to cited text no. 5


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